In defence of the gentle man

I'm currently recovering from a trip to New Orleans. I was there on business and while I fooled myself into thinking that I'd managed to escape the lag on the way home, in truth I'm still not quite in the same time zone.

The problem started over there. A six-hour time difference and midday flight to the city put my body clock out of sync, meaning I woke each morning at 4 am and was up for the day (something I hoped the last five years living with a child might have given me some defence against).

At the weekend this was nice, I could FaceTime home and chat to my wife and son, catching up on what I'd missed and finding out their plans for the day. But by the time Monday rolled around it wasn't so useful.

With nothing else on offer I switched on the TV in my hotel room and discovered that the wonder of American TV extends into its paid-for advertising spots.

PixabayThe barbecue: a sign of true masculinity?

My favourite was a man dressed in white robes, he sang to a drawing of Jesus ominously hovering in the corner of the screen. I often recognised the words but never the tune, which is to be applauded.

He moved onto the spoken word and it was all fairly standard until he turned to the subject of 'men'. Most of what he said is lost in a mixture of bewilderment and jet-lag but I wrote down one thing that I knew I wouldn't believe had happened if I'd didn't capture it. He was mid-rant about men and found himself talking about our 'feminine side'.

His take on this was: 'If you got a feminine side you must be a bisexual.'

It's a remarkably stupid comment but he isn't alone in this type of nonsense thinking.

A recent article on Desiring God (the online resource platform of John Piper) written by staff writer Greg Morse, Play The Man You Are: Will Effeminacy Keep Anyone from Heaven? caught my eye. The article begins by invoking the recent controversial Gillette commercial alongside some scaremongering tales about teachers banned from saying 'girls and boys' or grown men entering female changing rooms (none of which are backed up with any proof).

Having alerted the reader to how petrifying the world he has just created is, he goes on to help by pointing out some of the traits of effeminacy. Things like, 'lispy sentences, light gestures, soft mannerisms, and flamboyant jokes'. He continues, 'So, am I questioning every man with a high voice? Of course not. Such men do not deny their manhood by speaking with the voice God gave them. Am I questioning gentleness? Not in the least; it is a fruit of the Spirit found in all mature godly men. Am I questioning wearing floral shirts and tight jeans? Perhaps.'

Greg Morse is just the latest in a growing list of men who want to explain how Christian men should behave.

Don't wear tight jeans. Don't drink lemon tea. Don't forget to grow a beard.

Don't cook inside. Don't eat anything that wasn't alive before you barbecued it outside.

Don't cry. Don't tell me how you feel.

Don't let a woman hold authority over you.

Don't look uninterested in motorbikes. Don't drive an electric car. Don't neglect the beard.

They want us to know that God is like The Rock, smashing weights, wearing smart suits and then making a million at the office before the day even begins.

They want us to know that Jesus is your 'bro' who loves shooting stuff and kicking stuff and setting fire to stuff.

They want us to know how terrible it is that the church has become feminine (ironic for a bride and certainly not an indication of any progressive leaning).

And when it comes to women, of course we're faithful to our wives, but if weren't married...well let's just say we would lead all those ladies to the Lord (wink wink, nudge nudge #lads)

The 'soft' become a punchline and the 'effeminate' become a punchbag.

So while the world progresses, while we try harder to make every space safer, smash every glass ceiling, right the wrongs of the past and usher in an age of greater equality, there emerge these last enclaves of sexism and homophobia masquerading as ministry for a breed of man masquerading as underrepresented and oppressed.

Let me be clear, not everyone who leads or engages in these ministries is sexist or homophobic, far from it. But you can be sure that every sexist and homophobic man in the church is drawn to them.

And every time they jokingly ban quinoa. Every time they snigger at a pink shirt.

Every time they make a joke about 'the wife's spending'.

Every time they tell us that 'feminism is okay but...', every time they tell us that they 'respect women but...'

Every time they tell us to 'man up', every time they laud strength and belittle weakness.

Every time they point us to Paul rather than listen to the Christ: they push us further and further from the men God calls us to be and closer to the men they want us to be.

Men just like them.

Greg Morse and I do agree on one thing (I'm sure we agree on more and I'm trying not to caricature a brother in Christ too hard). He describes Jesus as 'the model of God-honoring masculinity'. I couldn't agree more.

I just wonder if the 1st-century, 30-year-old unmarried man who rejected gender stereotypes, cried when his friend died, took time to be gentle with children, welcomed the outcast, refused to accept the religiously enforced norms of his day and then surrendered to the government without so much as swinging a punch would be all that welcome in one of these places where only 'real men' need apply.

Maybe it's time that Christian men asked themselves the toughest question of all – is there's really that much space for the man Christ in their masculinity?

Matt White is a Northern Irish TV producer living in Essex and working in London. Follow him on Twitter @mattgwhite

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